Trish Bongard Godfrey

What to Do in a (Toronto) Flood

13 June 2013
Trish Bongard Godfrey

When asked about whether all the rain was going to stop, our neighbour in Nova Scotia, the late Albert Oxner, replied, “It always has before.” If you are struggling as a result of the rain and flooding yesterday, I am really sorry. If not – lucky you! You probably have a newer home with weeping tiles, or retro-fitted your older home with a good system.

If you are at the cottage, haven’t turned on the radio or gotten your morning paper, and are just wondering if someone should go into your house and look at your basement, the answer is yes.

Taking action – What to do if you have basement flooding:

Health and safety

- Health and Safety should be your top concern when dealing with basement flooding. Apart from the mess, a flooded basement presents hazards that require special precautions.

- Flooding may affect electrical and gas systems, including related appliances, creating the possibility of serious electrical shock or explosion.

- Flood water could be highly contaminated with disease/bacteria from raw sewage and other pollutants.

- During clean-up, you may be exposed to a range of contaminants, including corrosive cleaning agents and irritants found in leftover sludge. Resulting molds and mildew can trigger problems for asthmatics.

- Water damage may also seriously weaken wall and ceiling structures.

Tips to Minimize Basement Damage

Here are some tips to minimize the damage to your basement when flooding has occurred:

- If water is backing up from your building drain, DO NOT flush the toilet, run the washing machine or dishwasher, or turn on any taps – this will only create further flooding. You should call a plumber immediately.

- Report the flooding emergency to the City of Toronto at 311. This is important. Reporting a flooded basement allows us to track the immediate source of the problem in your neighbourhood and also to plan ahead for future investigations into the sanitary and/or storm systems.

- City staff will inspect the problem, assess the flooding damage, and determine its source. The City will recommend what you should do to prevent another basement flood in the future.

- If you have insurance coverage for sewer backups, you may want to call your insurance company as soon as possible and report any property damage caused by the flooding. Take photographs of the damage and keep receipts for payments for emergency repair work and clean-up work done to prevent or reduce further damage.

The Clean-Up

Cleaning up is a messy and unpleasant job. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself while getting rid of the mess:

- Wear protective clothing – overalls, gloves, protective eyeglasses, rubber boots, and a face mask.

- Stay clear of electrical equipment. Do not attempt to change any fuses if you are standing in water or on damp ground.

- If you can, shut off the electrical power.

- If weather permits, open basement windows to allow fresh air in. In addition to speeding the drying process, this helps to prevent odours.

- Remove items of value that are in, or near, the source of water.

- Roll back or remove rugs close to the source of water.

- Use old rags or wet/dry vacuums to eliminate excess water.

- Fans and/or dehumidifiers can reduce dampness and speed drying.

- Minor debris can be left out for regular garbage pick-up.

- Scrub affected furniture with antibacterial soap and water and place outside to dry (weather permitting), or steam clean.

- Clean and deodorize carpets or have them professionally cleaned.

- Disinfect the walls and the floor using a chlorine bleach and water solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water). Wait for the area to dry completely before re-using it.

- Throw out canned goods and other foods that may have been affected by flood waters. If your freezer has lost power, move frozen food to a neighbour’s freezer, or throw it out if you cannot keep it frozen.

- If the source of the problem is a leaking water metre, turn off the valve in front of the metre. Place rags or pails beneath the metre to catch the drips, or if the valve is spraying water, wrap towels around the leaking valve.

If water is widespread and there is serious damage, it is suggested that you:

- Make a written list of all property that is damaged.

- Note which property is permanently damaged (i.e., won’t be usable after being properly dried).

- Take photos to document the water spread and the wet property.

- Advise your insurance agent or broker promptly.

- Reduce the risk of future basement flooding by implementing easy 1, 2, 3 solutions.

[Courtesy of the City of London, Ontario]